Elections 2021: Save us from the election poster pollution

There are six weeks to polling day. The streets of Johannesburg, the largest metropolis in the country – and the financial capital of the continent, are still largely unpolluted by election posters.

If the ANC’s very public financial woes are anything to go by, this condition might continue. But what will the posters say, if they do go up? The same slogans have been bandied about since 1994; the better life – through a mix of bad management, rampant tenderpreneurism and a fair bit of bad luck – is more of a mirage than it ever was.

The ANC administrative chaos and factionalism are a rare gift for opposition parties. But will they squander it? The DA, when not publishing posters in Afrikaans that sound more like FF Minus, was pandering to the vaccine hesitant this week; the same party that complained so bitterly at the imposition of a draconian lockdown only to become simultaneously petulant and libertarian over vaccine passports that would free us of it.

It’s not the only party scoring an own goal. The EFF’s foray this week has been to promote their leader literally as their poster boy promoting the launch of a manifesto, rather than explain what’s in it. Herman Masha’s Action SA in turn has been quick off the mark with the simple poster ploy of “everyone’s shit, vote for us”.

It’s probably the most authentic slogan of them all, but nothing’s authentic in politics. It’s worth remembering that Mashaba, who seems to borrow his political inspiration from Donald Trump, was the last DA mayor of Johannesburg and very happy to sign a sweetheart deal with the EFF to make that happen. All that meant was that the mismanagement continued and the graft developed new conduits – until everything imploded.

This is not a national election. It’s not about running an entire country – it’s far more important than that; it’s about running the places where we live. It’s real parish pump politics: running water, street lights that work, clinics, parks, potholes.

The EFF seemed to understand that, in their typical populist way by flighting a proposal this week that the suburbs should pick up the tab for the water and lights bills in the townships. It’s a very magnanimous gesture since much of its leadership live in the suburbs, while some of its top leaders are ensconced in the privilege of gated estates.

But it also conveniently misses the point that many parts of Soweto are very well serviced with street lights that work, running water and nary a pothole for kilometres, unlike the leafy suburbs of the north which are increasingly blighted by Jojo tanks in gardens and the thrum of generators as ageing infrastructure continuously collapses.

But does anyone actually care? We get the government we deserve, because we get the politicians we enable. How many of us will even vote come November 1? How many of us will even use this weekend to get on the voters’ roll?

That’s the real question. Politicians play identity politics because they’re morally bankrupt. Are we any better for allowing them?

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 18 September 2021.